Do We Have To “Urbanize” Everything We Sing?

I’ve often pondered this privately because it’s one of those things that can easily spark a bunch of debate, and I’m really not too fond of that. Especially regarding faith and the things of God. But a blog is a different story. You almost NEED a little controversy now and then on a blog, or it’s just boring. Sooo, let me ask a very frank question here. Do we have to “Urbanize” everything we sing?”

First of all let me say that I realize and greatly appreciate the fact that I have readers and followers from several countries, nationalities and ethnicities.  If you all would be so kind, please talk among yourselves for a moment.  I need to chat with my Gospel groups, praise teams and churches for a bit.

I often say if you’re a Gospel praise team and you’re not doing any of the wonderfully beautiful praise and worship songs being written in the Contemporary Christian Music genre you’re doing your team and your congregation a great disservice. Some of the most beautiful worship songs can be found down the dial a bit. Ditto for praise songs. Great up-beat, up-lifting songs.

There are indeed a growing number of Gospel music ministries that have figured this out and are adding CCM praise and worship songs to their roster. But what I see quite often is that when they do they feel the need to somehow “make it more black”. They change chord progressions, add vamps and fancy bridges, etc.

I think this is rather unfortunate, actually. And really, unnecessary. I suppose the general thought is “if we do this song just like it is our congregation won’t like it or won’t receive it because it will sound “too white” or “too plain”. I definitely understand the concern, but I think it’s perhaps a bit of over thinking.  So I’d like to offer two thoughts for you to ponder the next time you’re considering “doctoring up” a CCM song to make it sound more “gospel-y”.

1. Your concern about whether or not your congregation will accept the song done the original way is probably misplaced. Many, many people who grew up listening to Gospel music actually love the fresh, clean sound and pure message of CCM praise and worship songs. Not only would many of them embrace these songs, many of them would think it a welcome change.

2. The fact is, if you’ve been eating, sleeping and drinking Gospel music all your life, anything you sing is going to have that flavor. The same goes with the musicians. So even if you do a CCM worship song as is with no changes, it will take on a Gospel feel just because a Gospel group is doing it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that these modifications don’t work. Many of them go on to be big hits. But Contemporary Christian praise songs have a sincerity and purity that frankly is sometimes lacking in Gospel. The focus with CCM writers is  on pure, authentic worship and praise. The musical arrangement is often understated so that it’s not the focus. The song arrangements are kept simple (we can get pretty complex sometimes, making it more about the musicianship than the message).

I could go on here, but the point I’m making is that adding CCM songs to your roster and just doing them straightforward could be just the thing to help your ministry widen it’s appeal, add depth, variety and balance. So don’t always feel that the only way you can do CCM songs at your church is to somehow make them blacker and more gospel. A great worship song is a great worship song, just the way it is. Going out of your way to add stuff to make it sound more like a Gospel song can actually detract from it if you’re not careful.

Just one more point of view.

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12 Responses to Do We Have To “Urbanize” Everything We Sing?

  1. Lash says:

    Here are my thoughts. I’m having a problem with terms like “make it more black” and “blackened”, just like I have a problem with the term “black English” taught in Linguistics courses. Making “urban” synonymous with “black” is perpetuating stereotypes which are founded in generalizations which can’t be proven by statistical data and that serve to add to the marginalization of an already marginalized people. Be blessed.

  2. Lesa Clayton says:

    I agree 100%. I used to attend an AG church and I fell in love with the worship music. It is vertical worship and points you directly to the throne. The church I now attend is non-denominational and our praise team does almost all CCM music. Never anything that brings attention to ourselves but music that takes you straight to the throne room.

  3. Venera Whitlow says:

    All I can say is Amen. And…Variety is the spice of life.

  4. Venera Whitlow says:

    All I can say is Amen.

  5. Kev'n says:

    A legendary musician once said, “we hear and respond on the 2 & 4 they hear and respond on the 1 & 3” -Ike Turner

    …as long as it’s heard we can work with it to make it happen

    Peace and Love
    “from above”

  6. cam says:

    I have pondered this for a while and let me say that the jury is still out on this one. I wonder why less “color” is equated with words like, sincerity, purity, clean, and fresh. What is straight forward anyway? Purity is something that is in the heart. So, if my heart is pure and I hear a minor 9 chord does it follow that the song I play is not straight forward or “pure” or “clean”or “fresh”? The bible says play skillfully which does not mean bringing out every chord and run in your arsenal. It does however mean knowing what to do at the right time. Like a good cook not too much salt, a dash here, a cup of this, a tablespoon of that and so on. When we start labeling things I get nervous because after that happens then things are categorized and then placed in a hierarchy. Like “Urbanized” and “Pure CCM”

    • Ron Cross says:

      Hey Cam,

      Thanks for the comment! I understand where you’re coming from, but I’m not completely sure you understood where I was coming from. First of all labels are not what this article is about. However, labels are indeed a fact of life, especially in music. Insist on avoiding labels as an artist and you will toil away in obscurity because nobody will be able to find you anywhere.

      To your point about straight or pure or fresh, I agree! Who, after all, gets to decide what “clean” or “fresh” is?

      So the point I’m trying to make here is NOT that CCM is “clean” or “fresh” and doing anything other than that is a bad thing.
      But I think we can agree that many African-American groups do go out of their way to create something that is very much “urbanized”. Most will do this by adding a hook, changing the tempo or making other changes that are done specifically for the purpose of “making it more Gospel”.

      The point I was trying to make in the article is that if you grew up singing, listening to and playing Gospel, you need not go out of your way to “make a song more ‘Gospel”. It will take on a gospel feel simply because you’re doing it. This is true with any genre.

      A Country singer doing a Gospel song will naturally give it a Country feel because of natural inflections, chords and even accents that are present in his style. He need not go out of his way to “country it up”. All he has to do is sing the song “straight”….which for the purposes of this article, simply meant “as written” without any deliberate genre -specific nuances added for no other reason than to identify the song with a certain genre. I hope that makes sense.

      Thanks for the input, loved your thoughts!

  7. Jerry Vogt says:

    Our mostly white straight laced Presbyterian congregation loves it when our choir does a gospel piece, as we did today. We surely aren’t good at it as you folks are, but it is great to do something different for us once in awhile. People seem to respond because it is different for us. And it gets them clappin!

  8. Traci says:

    Yes! I totally agree.

  9. Alyce says:

    Am co-signing everything Bro. Ron has said. Worship does not come in any one ‘genre.’ Beautiful and anointed praise and worship knows no limits. Amen. (or ‘aah-men,’ as the case may be…)

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